A shuls new shuk: Oaklands Beth Abraham highlights local artists in online shop

In a time when Facebook photo albums have replaced tangible ones and people are tweeting instead of meeting, Temple Beth Abraham in Oakland didn’t want to be left out of the new media age.

Mixed metal Star of David by Jeannie Haydon.

So the Conservative synagogue replaced its gift shop — for now — with an online shuk, featuring 11 artists from the congregation whose specialties range from bookbinding to sewing to making tallits, mezuzahs and jewelry.

It’s a good start, said Bonnie Burt, a filmmaker and beaded jewelry maker, considering the Web site launched less than one month ago. Burt and fellow congregant Outi Gould spearheaded the project, beginning with a mass e-mail inviting any and all crafty congregants to join in. Eleven responded, and Burt hopes that more will be added in the future.

“People like to buy from artists who are local or someone they know,” Burt added, noting that only artists from the Beth Abraham community can sell on the online shuk, but anyone is welcome to buy. “We want people to think local first, instead of buying something manufactured in China or from a store.”

All of the artists have an introduction page on www.tbaoakland.org/Shuk, along with a link to their work.

Though visitors to the shuk can look, they can’t buy — the Web site doesn’t have the capability to accept online payments, so each artist has contact information at the bottom of their page, in the form of a Web site or e-mail address, so they can be reached to take orders.

Black concrete menorah by Aron Rosenberg.

Several of the artists, such as Jeannie Haydon of Oakland, also have links to their items on Etsy, a global Web site for buying and selling handmade goods.

A metalsmith and jeweler, Haydon has been creating earrings, necklaces, pins and bracelets out of sterling silver, 14-karat gold and other metals for 27 years. She also makes sculptural heart-shaped wall pieces.  

Though it’s too early to tell if her jewelry is getting more exposure thanks to the online shuk, Haydon noted that just having a presence on the Web is helpful — and more convenient.   

“Last year was a tough year,” said Haydon, who’s a staple at local craft fairs and galleries. “My sales were down, except for my online sales. Maybe [selling through the shuk] will be easier than hauling my stuff around.”

As the sole proprietor of the business, Haydon makes every piece by hand. Though she finds inspiration in previously successful designs, all of her pieces are one-of-a-kind.

In addition to her best-selling earrings (she has upward of 40 designs), Haydon has been dabbling in Judaica ever since she was asked to make a piece for a Temple Beth Abraham auction. It’s a “new direction,” she said, especially considering she’s not Jewish.

Haydon’s husband, Aron Rosenberg, also is a featured artist at the TBA shuk. He sells handmade concrete menorahs, each one ornamented with an array of metals, stones and stained glass.

Before her jewelry was highlighted on the site, Rebecca Skiles didn’t know any of the other participating artists. They had the chance to meet at a preview event in November, where Skiles sold several pieces of her handcrafted jewelry — a combination of colorful gemstones and precious metals.

“Those were my first sales,” said Skiles, who has been creating jewelry in her spare time since she moved to Oakland three years ago. “This is the first time my jewelry has been online, and a great opportunity to transform a hobby into something more serious.”

A meticulous shopper at local gem shows, Skiles seeks inspiration from naturally occurring stones, in addition to beads. She also takes vintage pieces, such as costume jewelry or items collecting dust in her own jewelry box, and turns them into new, trendy pieces.

Like Burt, Skiles hopes congregants will look to the online shuk as a resource for handmade gifts. 

“It’s thrilling when someone likes something I’ve made and wants to pay money for it,” Skiles said. “Hopefully, I will get the sales.”

To shop at Temple Beth Abraham’s online shuk, visit www.tbaoakland.org/Shuk.